Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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The Sniper Effect

[Editor’s Note: This is a continuation on themes begun with “Insignificantly Interesting”]

When I left off the last time, I mentioned that “the only difference between the stars and ‘Joe Scmoe’ was the audience, but not any more.” Paul Graham explains it like this:

If I’m right that the defining advantage of insiders is an audience, then we live in exciting times, because just in the last ten years the Internet has made audiences a lot more liquid. Outsiders don’t have to content themselves anymore with a proxy audience of a few smart friends. Now, thanks to the Internet, they can start to grow themselves actual audiences. This is great news for the marginal, who retain the advantages of outsiders while increasingly being able to siphon off what had till recently been the prerogative of the elite.

Now add that to ‘The Real World Rule’ (“the seemingly insignificant is often the most interesting”) and you’ve got a recipe for success. To quote Graham again, “The big media companies shouldn’t worry that people will post their copyrighted material on YouTube. They should worry that people will post their own stuff on YouTube, and audiences will watch that instead.”

As I’ve said in the past, you don’t go to MySpace for MySpace, you go for MY space.

But it’s not just individuals getting in on the action, it’s also the business world. What small companies didn’t have was audience: They didn’t have the budget to market their product effectively.

That’s no longer true.

Anyone can find an audience without a $10 million ad spend. What’s even better is that the audience is targeted and self-selected. Now getting, and holding, people’s attention is a hard thing to do, but considering us regular Joes are working on much smaller margins, we can afford to speak to smaller niches. We don’t need ‘hits’ on a mass scale.

This site has about 300 RSS readers. That’s a big deal to me. Those are 300 people savvy enough to use RSS and interested enough in this site to subscribe. I can confidently say that my cost/benefit ratio is higher than all those blue-chip advertisers. I’ve got a sniper rifle to their machine gun: Sure I might hit fewer, but I’m a hell of a lot more accurate.

There’s something interesting about influence that people don’t talk about: It’s relative to the size of the audience. The smaller the niche, the more influential you can be. If there are five people talking about purple hyperwidgets, chances are all five are pretty damn influential. That’s a big deal.

That ability to live niche makes for a much better return on attention (ROA) for my readers. I assume that the vast majority of what I write is at least somewhat interesting to you because it’s interesting to me. I’m not worried about appealing to everyone because I don’t need to be.

Which leads me to my next point: In an effort to create stuff that appealed to everyone we were left with a world full of junk.


August 23, 2006